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Full text of "Why the press failed on Spain!"

WHY THE PRESS 
FAILED ON SPAIN! 



V. 



JOSEPH F. THORNING, Ph.D., Litt,D. 

Professor o£ Sociology and Social History at Mt. St. Mary's College, 
Emmitsburff, Maryland . 




I 



INTERNATIONAL CATHOLIC TRUTH SOCIETY 
407 Bergen Street, Brooklyn, N. Y, 



Joreword 



By Reverend Edward Lodge Curran, Ph.D. 

Since the revolt of the Spanish People against the Red 
Loyalist Government, which forced its way into power by 
the violent and fraudulent elections of February, 1936, 
many pamphlets have been written about Spain. 

The revolt of the Spanish Nationalists opened in the 
month of July, 1936. Step by step the Nationalists under 
the magnificent leadership of General Franco have rescued 
Spain from the bloody tyranny of the Leftist forces of 
the Madrid-Valencia-Barcelona dictatorship. 

For years the American Press has boasted of its devotion 
to fair play and to impartiality. We have witnessed, how- 
ever, the transformation of too many members of the 
American Press into a propaganda machine for the Red 
Cause of the Red Loyalists in Spain, 

These members of the American Press have lost the 
right even to be considered accurate. When the press of 
the rest of the world had repudiated the malicious lies 
about the supposed massacres in Badafos and about the 
supposed desecration of the holy (?) city of Guernica, 
much of the American Press continued to repeat the 
slanders. 

We consider this pamphlet to be one of the most im- 
portant yet produced on the Spanish affair. It will warn 
all American readers against the biased reports served to 
them on a propdganda platter and falsely included on the 
literary menu as "news." 

The Catholic Church does not fear truth. Jt fears half' 
truths and prejudice. Father Thorning*s pamphlet is the 
whole truth. Father Thorning has earned the gratitude 
>of the American nation as a whole for writing it. 



WHY THE PRESS FAILED ON SPAIN! 

By JOSEPH F. THORNING, PH.D., Litt.D. 

Professor of Sociology and Social History at Mt. St. Mary's College, 
Emmitsburg, Maryland 

IN the first place, it is just to acknowledge that the great 
metropolitan journals and international news services 
printed most of the important material which proved the close 
connection between Moscow and Madrid. On November 1, for 
example, both the New York Times and the New York Herald- 
Tribune gave detailed descriptions of the Madrid-Valencia-Bar- 
celona celebration of the 20th anniversary of the foundation of 
the Union of Socialist and Soviet Republics. Furthermore, both 
the Associated Press and the United Press laid profound stress 
upon the significance of the Anarchist and Syndicalist movements 
in Catalonia. The reporting of William P. Carney, especially 
as exemplified in the despatch to the New York Times on De- 
cember 7, 1936. showed a high degree of journalistic responsi- 
bility and personal courage. It should be noted that he confined 
himself to straight news stories and never allowed himself to be- 
come a propagandist either for Largo Caballero or Generalissimo 
Francisco Franco. 

On the other hand, the New York Times kept Herbert L. 
Matthews as its special correspondent in Madrid long after he 
had abandoned any pretense to serve as anything more or less 
than a rabid Red partisan. To prove this, one has merely to 
contrast the stories of Mr. Matthews with the impressions of the 
Socialist leader, Sam Baron (New York Times, November 15, 
1937) or with the tenor of despatches of independent observers 
that have appeared in the New York Times from time to time 
(e.g., New York Times, November 9, 1937). 

Upon analysis the reports of Mr. Matthews are revealed as 



Why the Press Failed on Spain! 



nine-tenths "interpretations" of official policy or "human inter- 
est" narratives of events behind the Red front. He has earned 
the sobriquet of the "Walter Duranty of Red Spain/' To tell 
the truth, this is a reflection upon Duranty because the latter 
has almost invariably retained an apparent detachment in his 
despatches from Moscow. Incidentally, the contradiction be- 
tween what Walter Duranty really saw and believed and what 
he put on the wires to the New York Times is graphically de- 
scribed by that well-known one-time representative of the United 
Press in Russia, Eugene Lyons, in his brilliant study, Assignment 
in Utopia. Duranty himself plunged into the Spanish whirlpool 
and wrote some stories from Catalonia that make interesting 
museum-pieces today. A number of his confident predictions 
failed to come true, and so he is no longer writing as he pleases 
about Spain. 

The Lies About Badctjos 

The false report of the "massacre" of Badajos has been so fre- 
quently and so thoroughly pulverized that it may seem strange 
to repeat the refutation. I intend to address myself briefly to 
this task because no less an author than John Gunther, eager 
to exploit the latest development in the international arena, 
wrote a special chapter on Spain in the new edition of his book, 
Inside Europe. This chapter gives no indication that John 
Gunther has been "inside Spain," at least since the outbreak of 
hostilities. Inasmuch as Mr. Gunther's volume has achieved a 
place on the best-seller list in the non-fiction field, it may be 
worth while to examine some of his statements about Badajos 
and other alleged atrocities of the Nationalists. 

Mr* Gunther writes as follows (p. 174): "Previously, at Bada- 
jos on the Portugese border, 4,000 loyalist civilians and militia- 
men were captured by Franco's men and machine-gunned in the 
bull-ring." 

There is no excuse for this rehearsal of falsehood because, 
prior to the publication of the refurbished edition of Inside 



Why the Press Failed on Spain! 5 

Europe, the legend of Badajos has been completely demolished 
by Major Geoffrey McNeill-Moss in his thrilling narrative, The 
Siege of the Alcazar. Major McNeill-Moss shows how the "mas- 
sacre" of Badajos was announced to the American public under 
the signature of N. Reynolds Packard, the well-known correspon- 
dent of the United Press. In a valuable appendix (No. 2, pp. 
305-313) the British officer records Mr. Packard's own repudiation 
of the story given to the English-speaking world under his name. 

The authenticity of the report was also denied by Webb Miller, 
the European news manager of the United Press, in a letter he 
wrote to The Manchester Guardian. Major McNeill-Moss sub- 
jects to careful analysis two other despatches about the same 
incident (pp. 118-123) and then clinches the case with the testi- 
mony of Captain Francis McCullagh, a correspondent whose in- 
tegrity is above cavil. The words of Captain McCullagh are 
emphatic (p. 123): "I went thoroughly into that question and 
satisfied myself that no Red who surrendered at Badajos was 
shot. * * * I have been . unable to find any Englishman or 
American who saw with his own eyes any shooting of unarmed 
men by the nationalists."* 

Deliberate Fictions 

As early as April, 1937, Douglas Jerrold, writing in The Nine- 
teenth Century, added this impressive testimony: "The 'mas- 
sacre' at Badajos I knew to be a lie, because it was announced 
in the French Press of the Left two days before Badajos fell. * * *" 
Mr. Jerrold does not hesitate to say that this example is "only 
one in an unbroken series of deliberately invented fictions which 
have been foisted on the English and American public." 

The point to be noted is that all this testimony was available 
to John Gunther when he undertook to write his chapter on 

* The story of Mr. Jay Allen may be disregarded inasmuch as he 
tilmself acknowledges that he arrived eight days late. Cf. From 
Spanish Trenches, edited by Marcel Acier, pp, 3-8. 






6 Why the Press Failed on Spain! 

the war in Spain. Even a perfunctory desire or search for the 
truth would have led him inevitably to die book of Major 
McNeill-Moss and the articles of Douglas Jerrold. Mr. Gunther 
did not give a single hint that would help an unsuspecting reader 
to explore the question further. In his recital there is not the 
echo of a doubt or misgiving about the lie which he is propagat- 
ing. In the supposition that he accepted the original unreliable 
reports about Badajos, would not he, a responsible journalist 
who makes bold to embody his views of current history in a 
book, be obligated to indicate, at least in a foot-note, that his 
sources were under fire and that an analysis of the available evi- 
dence might be found in a previously published volume? 

It is possible that Mr. Gunther did not know about the repudi- 
ations of the Badajos slaughter signed by N. Reynolds Packard 
and Webb Miller. It is possible that he did not read The Siege 
of the Alcazar. If this is his defense for the propagation of 
falsehood, it is nothing more or less than a plea of culpable 
ignorance. If, as seems more likely, he had some inkling of the 
doubt that had been cast upon the original story, he can hardly 
be credited with a very high degree of intellectual honesty. 

Even Reviewers Nod 

Of course, every atrocity story accumulates blood in its dis- 
semination. The Badajos "massacre" is no exception. Ramon 
Sender in Counter-Attach in Spain (p. 123) speaks about the 
14,000 murders committed by Franco in Navarre, the 30,000 shot 
in Badajos, die 27,000 in Granada. . . ." These reckless state- 
ments escaped the eye of the reviewer (Charles Poore) in the 
New York Times because Counter- Attach in Spain is a book for 
which he had nothing but unqualified praise (November 12, 
1937). The least critical reviewer, had he read the volume, 
would have pointed out that the figure of 30,000 murders at 
Badajos was a 26,000 increment over the 4,000 victims claimed 
by Gunther. 



Why the Press Failed on Spain! 7 

Consistency is not one of John Gunther's strong features. In 
his highly eulogistic introduction to M. W. Fodor's Plot and 
Counter-Plot in Central Europe he writes as follows: "Fodor is 
here. * * * He has the most peculiar comprehensive knowledge 
of central Europe of any journalist I know; all Europe for that 
matter." This fulsome praise is repeated on the jacket blurb 
of Fodor's book. 

Russia in Spain 

Now let us compare the information communicated by John 
Gunther with that furnished by M. W. Fodor. In Inside Europe 
Gunther makes the blunt statement (p. 176): "No Russian troops 
arrived in Spain. * * * " On the other hand, Fodor, the omni- 
scient, is rather explicit (p. 293): "The Russian Army has 
changed. As the Spanish war revealed, it is one of the best- 
equipped and best-trained of armies, and it has the largest air 
force in the world." Either Gunther or Fodor is mistaken. 
Both cannot be infallible on Spain. 

It is far more interesting and more important to contrast one 
of the claims of John Gunther, the Walter Winchell of the 
European scene, with the facts presented by Captain Anthony 
Eden, Foreign Secretary of Great Britain, in the House of Com- 
mons. In his chapter on Spain, Gunther (p. 183) describes the 
Non-intervention agreement as a "monstrous fiction." He then 
adds: "This was an almost fatal handicap to the loyalists. They 
could get nothing in from France and not much from the U.S.S.R. 
But Italy and Germany sent great quantities of arms and men 
to Spain before die pact was signed, and after its signature it 
seemed that they violated it almost at will." 

Answering David Lloyd George in Parliament Foreign Secre- 
tary Eden declared (New York Times, November 1, 1937): "The 
result of Nyon has been to facilitate the arrival of very large 
quantities of material arriving in Spanish Government ports. Of 
course there have been enormous quantities of material arriving 



8 



Why the Press Failed on Spain! 



at Spanish Government ports throughout the year. Official So- 
viet Government figures show that Spain now is Soviet Russia's 
third best customer. From January to September of this year 
Russia shipped to Spain nearly 10 times as much in weight and 
four and one-half times as much in value as during the corre- 
sponding period in 1936. During the summer months of this 
year I could not stand at this box and tell the House that during 
that period there was more material reaching the Insurgent 
forces than was reaching the Government forces." The differ- 
ence between the two statements is simply that Gunther drew 
upon his imagination and Eden levied tribute upon the trade 
reports of the Soviet Union. 

Confident assertion is one thing; the establishment of proof 
another. Mr. Gunther utilizes the first method when he writes 
(p. 166): "It is now established beyond any doubt that German 
and Italian intervention occurred months before Russian help 
readied Spain." It would be useful to have the evidence upon 
which this assertion is based. John Gunther does not support 
his statements with fact; nor does any other author I have 
studied. Early in September the Gazette de Lausanne, noted for 
the soundness of its news and of its editorial views, published 
considerable evidence to show that the Italian and German help 
to Franco had to be hastily improvised due to the fact that 
Mussolini and Hitler were taken by surprise by the speed and 
weight of Russian intervention. 



Diplomat Blames Moscow 

Similar testimony, even more convincingly presented, is given 
by Sir Francis Lindley, G.C.M.G., C.B., former British Ambas- 
sador to Japan. In an article, "The Tragedy of Spain," pub- 
lished in The National Review (February, 1937), Sir Francis 
traces the origin of Soviet intervention to its ideology of exploit- 
ing every "revolutionary situation." The British diplomat de- 
clares: "The plain fact is clear to all who wish to see. The 



Why the Press Failed on Spain! 9 

Spanish civil war would have been a purely internal affair had 
it not been for Moscow. No other Power would have had either 
reason or wish to intervene. Once the Bolsheviks set the exam- 
ple, others were certain to come in on the opposite side. And 
it is a delusion to believe that, with no foreign intervention, the 
Government would have won. With Spaniards left to them- 
selves everything points to a swift victory outside Catalonia for 
General Franco, who had at his disposal all the trained forces 
and the military skill of the country." 

Edward H. Knoblaugh of the Associated Press, who was in an 
excellent position to judge, assures us (p. 174) that "the foreign 
assistance Loyalist Spain was receiving was successfully minimized 
while that given the enemy assumed staggering proportions." 
The same writer estimated that the Madrid-Valencia-Barcelona 
Government has about 110,000 Russians, French, German, Ital- 
ian, American, Polish, English, Czech and Bulgarian volunteers 
fighting on its side. Of these, about 35,000 were killed, leaving 
some 75,000 still fit for service. (Correspondent in Spain, Ed- 
ward H. Knoblaugh, p. 217). This estimate is confirmed by 
Brig.-Gen. P. R. C. Groves of The Observer (London). 

The Lies About Guernica 

The crowning achievement of Red propaganda, however, was 
the report of the destruction of the ancient Basque holy city of 
Guernica. Gunther accepts the story at its face value. He 
writes as follows (pp. 176-177): "German aviators bombed and 
destroyed Guernica, the holy city of the Basques, the first in- 
stance in history of the complete and willful obliteration of a 
whole city, non-combatants as well as fighters, by bombing and 
machine-gunning from the air." In this case Mr. Gunther is 
able to cite as his authority, G. L. Steer of The Times, London. 
The latter, as we know from his own admission, was eight and 
one-half miles from the scene of the event he attempted to relate. 
He has been contradicted by The London Times correspondent 
who was with the Nationalist forces. 



10 



Why the Press Failed on Spain! 



The Havas Agency and a committee of international corre- 
spondents who investigated the report positively affirmed that 
most of the damage they saw was wrought by deliberate destruc- 
tion by fires from the ground. The damage done by Franco's 
planes was insignificant in comparison with the havoc perpe- 
trated by gasoline flames kindled by Spanish anarchists in their 
retreat. It should also be noted that Guernica was the site of an 
arms factory, just as Eibar, and a military position in the path 
of an advancing army. The Steer despatch was at best an inade- 
quate and misleading story. 

Here again, the Reds are convicted by the character of their 
own propaganda. The Spanish Embassy in Washington has 
published thousands of brochures with pictures purporting to 
show the destruction wrought by German bombs in Guernica. 
The "pidce de resistance" of this exhibit, occupying the center 
pages of the brochure, is a picture of rows upon rows of upright 
walls, roofless and blackened. The photograph is a "fake." It 
may be a picture of Verdun or St. Quentin immediately after 
tb.e World War, but it is not a reproduction of anything in Gu- 
ernica. Other photographs in the same brochure, actually taken 
on the spot, prove nothing except that the principal damage 
was done by incendiarism and not by bombs. As Douglas Jer- 
rold points out, in a case of this kind the outside walls of a 
bombed house will never be left intact. The pock-marks left 
on the streets of Guernica due to exploding bombs are relatively 
few compared to the unmistakable scars inflicted by fire. 

A Hitherto Unpublished Telegram 

Immediately upon receipt of the initial report by Steer, both 
The Times, London, and the New York Times wrote editorial 
denunciations of German fliers and General Franco. Within a 
few days The Times, London, had reason to suspect the accuracy 
of the Steer report and sent him the following hitherto undis- 
closed telegram, of which I submit a photostatic copy: 



Why the Press Failed on Spain! 11 

ORD 88 LONDON 16 4 12S1 

STEER HOTEL TORRONTEGUI BILBAO 

VIEW OTHER SIDES DISMISSAL YOUR GUERNICA STORY 

FURTHER JUDICIOUS STATEMENT DESIRABLE— TIMES 

The New York Times still has to make an "amende honorable" 
for three savagely partisan editorials about the Guernica affair.* 

Nor has Senator William E. Borah retracted his widely pub- 
licized speech on Guernica, a statement that was obviously based 
on one-sided information. It is to be regretted that the Senator 
does not show the same commendable zeal in tracing down the 
truth on this episode, so important in the sphere of Red propa- 
ganda, as he displayed in demonstrating the facts about George 
Washington's sentiments with respect to foreign relations. When 
the Senator is correct, he is eager to discover the truth; when he 
is mistaken, as he certainly was in the case of Guernica, he takes 
refuge in silence. He assumed the responsibility of making the 
U.S. Senate a sounding-board for the dissemination of a one- 
sided and partisan distortion of the news. 

The Propaganda Machine 

Most competent newspaper correspondents are now aware of 
how woefully the public was deceived about Guernica. Edward 
H. Knoblaugh, an Associated Press writer of considerable repu- 
tation, describes the workings of the Red propaganda machine 
in his recent book entitled Correspondent in Spain. He dis- 
misses the incident in a single paragraph: 

"The bombing of the Basque town of Guernica was one of 
the most fortunate bits of material for the propaganda machine. 
Guernica had an arms factory. It was used as a Loyalist military 
base, and it was in the path of Franco's march on Bilbao. But 
the government propaganda workers exploited the. fact that Gu- 

* Following The Times (London) , which published a repudiation 
of the original Guernica report (December 14, 1937), the New York 
Times on December 27 acknowledged Guernica had been destroyed 
"upon evacuation." 



12 



Why the Press Failed on Spain: 



ernica had a venerated oak tree in a central plaza. The bom- 
bardment became 'an atrocious attack on the defenseless, holy 
city of the Basques'. It aroused such a wave of indignation 
abroad that not even the joint statement of disinterested corre- 
spondents, testifying that the principal damage had been caused 
by anarchist incendiaries and Asturian dynamiters before they 
evacuated Guernica, carried much weight." 

Russell Palmer, a prominent publisher who is both a Protes- 
tant and a Mason, made a special investigation to determine 
what happened at Guernica. He reports to us in these words 
(N.C.W.C. News Service despatch as it appeared in the Brooklyn 
Tablet, November 20, 1937): 

"I explored the ruins of Guernica very exhaustively and be- 
lieve that anyone who does so will come to the same conclusion 
that I did, viz., that the town was dynamited by retreating 
Basques. I took a number of photographs of Guernica which 
showed damage which could not possibly have been effected 
from the air." 

Still Fall for Lies 

The responsibility of the press for the fable of Guernica is the 
greater when we consider that after 10 months of experience the 
newspapers and news agencies had discovered plenty of reason 
to suspect the propaganda bulletins put forth by the Madrid- 
Valencia-Barcelona Government. Every one of these newspapers 
printed the false reports about the capture of the Alcazar. On 
July 29, 1936, Madrid announced the surrender of this fortress. 
A communique* informed Europe that the Nationalists, crowded 
into the underground structure, had given up all resistance. 
"They gave themselves up" — the communique reported — "after 
a last warning from the governmental forces, who had menaced 
them with another attack. Officers and Civil Guards came out 
of the fortress, unarmed, in groups of five. Complete order has 
been established in Toledo." (The Siege of the Alcazar, By 
Henri Massis and Robert Brasillach, p. 24). The truth, as the 



Why the Press Failed on Spain! 



15 



whole world now knows, was quite different. And yet the 
American newspapers continued to be; deceived. 

Actual evidence has little influence upon "special writers" 
who come to Spain to find material to fit their preconceived 
ideas. They are blind to unpleasant realities and invent ex- 
cuses for the most obvious brutalities of the Anarchistic ele- 
ments. One of this type visited Mr. Knoblaugh with a view 
to getting some help for his series of feature articles. Confessing 
his utter ignorance of the Spanish language and of Spanish cus- 
toms, he asked the Associated Press man to guide him through 
the mazes of necessary background material. His first question 
was: 

"What can you tell me about the reported killing of Rightist 
non-combatants behind the lines — these 'ride' victims we have 
read about?" 

Knoblaugh reported the well-known facts. Unfortunately, 
more than 50,000 innocent citizens of Madrid had been killed 
by the Reds without trial, 

"I don't believe it!" shouted the feature writer. "Nothing 
anyone can tell me will make me believe it. I think you must 
be a Fascist!" 

Newspapermen. Muzzled 

As a result, the veteran newspapermen, those who won their 
spurs in the pre-war days in Spain, have one by one found the 
climate unhealthy under the new regime Their familiarity with 
the language and the habits of the people, their carefully built 
up circle of news contacts, and their knowledge of political per- 
sonages and happenings made it difficult for the government 
to reduce them to servitude. Their long experience in the penin- 
sula would not permit them to accept statements directly at vari- 
ance with their trained judgment and personal observation. 
Since they could not be "co-Ordinated" with the new sources of 
news, they were either rendered practically useless to their em- 
ployers by a succession of petty privations or else sharply warned 



14 



Why the Press Failed on Spain! 



that the police would no longer be responsible for their personal 
safety. 

If a newspaperman in this distressing situation received ade- 
quate support from his home office, he might have been able 
to take the added risks which attend truth-telling. 

He is not inclined to invite reprisals when he knows that the 
men who publish or edit his paper in the United States are eager 
to feature Popular Front victories (Correspondent in Spain, 
Edward H. Knoblaugh, p. 198).* 

A striking example of this attitude is to be found in the files 
of the New York Times. As soon as G. L. Steer put his Guernica 
story on the wires, the editorial board of the Times was hard 
at work on an editorial excoriating the Nationalists under die 
inflammatory heading, Mass Murder in Guernica. On May 1, 
a second editorial branded the alleged bombing as a "climax of 
cruelty. * * *" The final editorial blast came on May 7, long 
after every responsible editor in New York and London had 
ample reason to doubt the misleading report of Mr. Steer. The 
latter knew well enough that the three editorials reflected the 
attitude of the men who were paying him. If he hadn't sus- 
pected where the sympathies of his employers lay before this 
date, he could easily conclude that in their eyes at least the 
Guernica incident "si non e" vero, e ben trovato." 

Knoblaugh relates that the first cabled "bouquet" which 
reached him from his New York office was a hurried re-write of 
a prepared article that he had received from the Red propaganda 
bureau. "The queer feeling I had upon receiving this message," 
he writes, "may be better understood if I add that, despite our 

* Sometimes the treatment is subtle. An article by Miss Virginia 
Cowles in the New York Times Magazine, January 9, 1938, was en- 
titled "Behind the Fighting Fronts in the Two Clashing Spains." 
Upon analysis the essay discloses that Miss Cowles briefly visited 
only San Sebastian and Santander in the Nationalist territory, 
although she had obviously spent considerable time in Madrid, 
Valencia and Barcelona. What about Seville, Malaga, Salamanca, 
Bilbao, Granada and Valladolid? 



Why the Press Failed on Spain! 



15 



months of hard and dangerous work at the fronts, and despite 
innumerable 'scoops' won by painstakingly cultivating scores of 
contacts on the possibility of a sometime return on our invest- 
ment of time and money, this was the first such message any of 
us in the Madrid bureau had received since the beginning of the 
war." (Correspondent in Spain, Edward H. Knoblaugh, p. 178). 
It would be a dull reporter who would not learn a lesson from 
such an experience. 

Privileges for Favorites 

Some of the correspondents in Red Spain get along famously 
with the authorities. There are privileges for those who broad- 
cast the government point of view. It is natural to want to 
please those with whom one lives and associates. The sharper 
the competition for the news, the more important it is not 
to be exposed to delays in matters of housing, food, censorship, 
cable and telephone facilities. The "objective" correspondent 
can be penalized in a hundred covert ways. It is hard to see 
a rival admitted to the front line trenches during or after a 
battle, to read the thrilling "human interest" stories that are 
the fruit of fraternization with officers and men, to realize that 
your home office is daily becoming disappointed at the lack of 
local color in your own despatches. 

On the other hand, the price of favors is conformity. The 
moment a correspondent shows that he is willing to be a rubber 
stamp for the Popular Front hand-outs, he is a welcome guest 
at many interesting conclaves; passes are provided for the most 
advanced positions; the assignment in Madrid turns into a series 
of wonderfully pleasant adventures. But should he show his 
ingratitude, as Edward H. Knoblaugh reports, by putting into 
practice "the fine old American newspaper tradition of investi 
gating and corroborating the government's news reports before 
sending them, there will be rough weather ahead." (Correspon- 
dent in Spain, Edward H. Knoblaugh, p. 190). Knoblaugh him- 
self as well as William P. Carney, Roland Winn (Reuter's), 



16 



Why the Press Failed on Spain! 



John Allwork (Renter's), and Jane Anderson, an American free- 
lance writer, are only a few who escaped assassination in the 
course of their conscientious performance of duty in Red Spain. 
Of course, some journalists need no persuasion to undertake 
the work of propaganda- Long before their appointment to 
Spain they were in the radical ranks and each day's work is a 
new opportunity for promoting the cause. A number in this 
category actually accept the status of "political agents." They 
help to create stories which are distributed by the Ministry of 
Propaganda to the neutral correspondents. 

Won Three Times Area of Spain 
One correspondent took the pains to add up the officially re- 
ported "victories" of the Red government for the first eight 
months of the war. The results he portrayed were fantastic, 
showing that on paper the Madrid-Valencia-Barcelona Govern- 
ment had won territory totaling three times the complete area 
of Spain; killed or wounded about six times the total number 
of men General Franco had under arms and captured prodigious 
stores of artillery and munitions,* The fact was that General 
Franco, according to William P. Carney, of the New York Times, 
waged his final campaign in the North with equipment seized 
from the enemy to the extent of 60 percent. 

In another chapter of his book, Correspondent in Spain 
(p. 145), Edward H. Knoblaugh relates that a summary of offi- 
cial Madrid announcements discloses that the Reds claim to have 
captured Huesca 26 times, Toledo 1 1 times and Oviedo 22 times. 
It would be tedious to rehearse the text of the communiques 
which told of the collapse of Saragossa, Granada, Cordoba and 
Avila. As a matter of fact, once the Nationalists had gained 
possession of these cities, they were never dislodged, even momen- 

* Summing up the year in Spain at the end of 1937, the New York 
Times complacently remarked that Bilbao was the only important 
Nationalist success in twelve months, overlooking or ignoring the 
capture of the rich province and city of Malaga early in the year. 



Why the Press Failed on Spain! 



17 



tarily. Nevertheless, the Reds continued to boast of their "suc- 
cesses" at these points and prevailed upon the newspapermen 
to relay their fabrications to the United States. That is why 
few editors can study their files from July 18, 1936, to December 
1, 1937, without feelings of shame and confusion. If this seems 
like an extreme conclusion, let it be compared with the remark 
of Eugene F. Lyons in Assignment in Utopia, where he speaks 
of the "manicured mendacities provided by the daily press." 
The American press in particular has confirmed the accuracy of 
Mr. Lyon's observation. 

Money No Object to Reds 

"Money is no object" has been the slogan of the Red propa- 
ganda machine. Few publicity bureaus can reduce a slogan like 
this to action, but in the case of Madrid it was simplicity itself. 
The Reds in seizing the gold reserve of the Bank of Spain gave 
themselves an initial advantage of more than $700,000,000 over 
their Nationalist opponents. Although sections of this immense 
sum were earmarked for individuals and put aside as private 
bank accounts in foreign parts, there was a large residue avail- 
able for the purposes of propaganda. For months the streams 
of gold literally flowed into every venal editorial office in Europe. 
I have related in the November Catholic World my own experi- 
ence with a special representative of the "Universal," the great- 
est daily newspaper in Rumania. This gentleman, Mr. Ian 
Popovici, told me that the Madrid government ofEered to pay 
all expenses for journalists who would come from Rumania to 
Spain. My Rumanian friend assured me that a number of his 
fellow countrymen were unable to resist the lure of this bait. 
It is easy to imagine the type of stories that would emanate from 
subsidized foreign correspondents. 

Constructively, much may be done to give the American pub- 
lic a true picture of conditions on both sides in Spain. Why 
should there not be a daily special despatch from General 
Franco's headquarters or some other point of major interest 



18 



Why the Press Failed on Spam! 



behind the Nationalist front? The "Reuter's" man in Spain 
told me that articles of this kind were followed with eager at- 
tention by readers in Europe and throughout the British Empire. 
Why should the feature spot be reserved for the despatches of 
Herbert L. Matthews morning after morning? Why were the 
reports of William P. Carney kept for many months on the in- 
side page or in a subordinate place, especially after the facts he 
produced were rarely called into question? In recent weeks, 
perhaps, due to many protests against the obvious disproportion 
of news printed from the two sides, there has been a more equi- 
table attitude displayed in the columns of the New York Times. 
It is possible that the editorial board did not realize how obvious 
its partisanship had become and how easily its illiberality could 
be checked and verified.* 

Bias of Newspapers 

Regrettably, a large number of publishers and editors have 
allowed their antipathy for (or valid grievances against) Hitler 
and Mussolini to influence their judgment in the placing and 
spacing of news. It is no mere accident that the newspapers 
conspicuous by their bias, both editorially and journalistically, 
have been the New York Times (publisher, Arthur Hays Sulz- 
berger), the Washington Post (publisher, Eugene F. Meyer), 
the St. Louis Post-Despatch (publisher, Joseph F. Pulitzer, Jr,)' 
and the Philadelphia Record (publisher, J. David Stern).' 

Other publishers would do well to scrutinize the handiwork 
of their headline writers. A number of Hearst papers, for ex- 
ample, blazed the Madrid-inspired report that Bruno Mussolini 
had bombed the British ship, Jean Weems, across the front page, 
Thenext day. no verification of the report could be obtained. 

„ r *.f s the war apparently draws to a victorious conclusion for the 
Nationalists both the New York Times and the New York Herald- 
Tribune, chagrined by the trend of events, allowed their corSsport 
dents to redouble their efforts to put a favorable complexion on the 
Red "Victorious Retreat" from Teruel. 



Why the Press Failed on Spain! 



19 



This item was carried in an obscure foot-note. There is no news 
in a denial. The damage had been done; the mind of the pub- 
lic had been poisoned and no antidote was supplied. 

Finally, the secular editors and publishers will do themselves 
and their readers a favor by a close acquaintanceship with the 
Catholic national magazines, reviews and weekly newspapers. 
In some communities the advantages of such a practice are be- 
coming noticeable. The Baltimore Sun, for example, often 
quotes The Catholic Review. Stories from the Brooklyn Tablet 
are frequently cited in the New York metropolitan area. Our 
Sunday Visitor is an authentic news source, while the Catholic 
Daily Tribune, of Dubuque, the Pittsburgh Observer, the Hart- 
ford Transcript, the Southwest Courier, the Denver Register, 
the San Francisco Monitor and Los Angeles Tidings are increas- 
ingly utilized by editors in the East, Middle West and Far West. 

If this trend continues, we may hope that editors in every 
large city will devote the same attention to the Catholic press 
that they now give to the pages of the Christian Science Monitor, 
the Christian Century, The Churchman, The Living Church, 
various Masonic journals and the radical sheets. The achieve- 
ments of Catholic editors and publishers are a rich contribution 
to the journalistic field. Their work on Spain alone has been 
enough to justify their existence and a more generous support 
of their subscription lists. 

Ably served by the N.C.W.C. News Service, the diocesan news- 
papers have been successful in securing accurate, adequate and 
attractive coverage for events in both zones of the Spanish civil 
war. The Catholic World, The Sign, The Commonweal, Light, 
Columbia and America printed abundant material that was 
gathered by eye-witnesses of the scenes they described. Owen 
B. McGuire, Captain Francis McCullagh, Nena Belmonte, Aileen 
O'Brien, Arnold Lunn, Edward H. Knoblaugh, Bernard Fay 
and Andrew F. Ferger wrote stories as authentic and color- 
ful as any that issued from the fronts on Nordi or South. Their 
reports will bear the test of history. The details these observers 




20 



Why the Press Failed on Spain! 



relate were checked and verified. Adhering strictly to the facts* 
they did not need to dramatize themselves after the fashion of 
some modern reporters. As a result you may pick up the files 
of our diocesan papers or national magazines today and retrace 
the stream of events that led General Franco from his remote 
post on the Canary Islands to his headquarters in the heart of 
Old Castile. 

The news, as reported in the Catholic press, may not always 
have been sensational, but it was correct. It was not a succes- 
sion of splendid lies; nor a procession of "victories" which almost 
invariably ended in withdrawal, surrender or retreat. Catholic 
editors and publishers merit the compliment which Edward H. 
Knoblaugh paid to the Nationalist High Command at Sala- 
manca: that never once were Franco's press officers responsible 
for the announcement or publication of false information. It 
is a satisfaction to know that at least one news syndicate did not 
succumb to what Sir Walter Maxwell-Scott called "the enormous 
power of modern propaganda," which has the "rest of the world 
absolutely hood-winked." 

This Report would not be complete without a citation from 
the jubilant despatch of Herbert L. Matthews which was pub- 
lished in the New York Times on February 6, 1937. Mr. Mat- 
thews declared: "The battle of Teruel now appears to observers 
here to be over, and there are several important lessons to be 
learned from it." If I may be so bold, I would suggest that the 
most important lesson which Herbert L* Matthews, Ernest 
Hemingway, John Dos Passos, George Seldes and Leland Stowe 
can learn from the Teruel campaign as reported in the press 
is that so eloquently inculcated by Sophocles in the first chorus 
of his famous drama "Antigone," to wit, not "to raise the cry 
of victory until you've scaled the walls."